The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

A McCain-Style Thanksgiving
Mark’s Memory Production
by Michelle Palmer


I groaned again as I wrote the assignments off the board. Just that morning I had told Pa that I was looking forward to having the rest of the week off. Thanksgiving would be Thursday, and Mr. Griswald had announced last Friday that we’d only attend classes on Monday. “Mark, is there a problem?” Mr. Griswald’s voice sounded suddenly.
I immediately straightened in my chair and forced myself not to roll my eyes. “Well…not really a problem but…”
Mr. Griswald turned and looked at the writing on the board. “Oh, dear me! I DID make a mistake. Thank you, Mark, for pointing it out.” At first, I was relieved. He had simply forgotten that today was the beginning of our Thanksgiving Holiday! Mr. Griswald turned and erased something. I groaned even louder when I saw what was now written on the board. “I meant for you to work through pages 26 to pages 33 in your arithmetic books…not page 32!”
 
I cringed when I felt about six pairs of eyes turn and glare at me. Slowly, I lowered myself in the seat and knew that had Mr. Griswald not been in the room, wads of paper and books would have been thrown in my general direction. I cleared my throat and continued writing. “And in the Spirit of Thursday being Thanksgiving, I will let you out…” Mr. Griswald paused as he opened his pocket watch and checked the time. “…exactly two minutes early!”
 
“Whoopie…” I grumbled as I rolled my eyes.
 
“Mark McCain, would you like to share your enthusiasm with the rest of the class?” Mr. Griswald asked as he took a step toward me.
 
I immediately straightened up in the chair and swallowed hard. “Uh…no sir, Mr. Griswald!”
 
“Very well, class. When you have your assignment copied down, you may go.” I groaned again as I quickly scribbled down the rest of my assignment. Then I closed my writing tablet, gathered up my books, and hurried out the door. I certainly didn’t get very far to where Blue Boy was tied before I found my ‘friends,’ Freddie Toomey, Billy Davis, and Steve and Kevin Connors coming toward me. They all had mean-looking expression on their faces.
 
“Oh now, give me a break!” I rolled my eyes. “It was just one page. Besides that, all I did was groan!”
 
“Yes!” Billy nodded his head. “And YOU know, Mark McCain, that it was your groaning that got us ALL an extra page of math homework!”
 
“Oh yeah?” I dropped my books to the ground and planted my fists on my hips. “And WHO is the one who got us the essay? Hmmmmmm?????” I turned and looked at Freddie.
 
Freddie laughed as he held up his hand. “Okay, so it was my loud ‘ow’ that got the essay, but WHO made me yell?”
 
“Yeah!” Jeff Connors practically shouted. “Who DID make him yell?”
 
“Yeah? Well, I suppose Freddie told you why I kicked him in the shin in the first place!”
 
The boys all turned back toward Freddie. Freddie held is hands up to his sides and shrugged in innocence. “What? Just because I took the pencil from his hand? Who was it that stepped on my pencil ON PURPOSE just before school started?”
 
Jeff, Kevin, and Billy all folded their arms and turned back to look at me. “Well, I…I…I…” I swallowed, because the truth was as far as those boys were concerned, the essay was ultimately my fault. I was suddenly very, very upset with Freddie. Someone needed to teach him a lesson, and it had been a whole two weeks since the last time I had attempted that task. So, without thinking I put up my fists and declared, “If you want to fight, I’ll…”
 
But I didn’t get a chance to get the rest of my sentence out, because Freddie dropped his books and gave me a hard push. I jumped up off the ground. “Why you…” I hurried forward and gave him a hard push right back. Freddie toppled to the ground. I jumped on top of him. The boys started yelling. They all seemed to take Freddie’s side on that one and that made me even madder! Freddie and I started rolling around in the dirt. I pinned him to the ground and was pinning his hands behind his back when the boys suddenly grew quiet.
 
That’s when I noticed something else. Two big booted feet were standing right beside me. I hesitated lifting my head, afraid of what I would find. Keeping Freddie pinned to the ground, I slowly lifted my head. My eyes moved up the legs, then to the very familiar belt buckle, and finally to the shirt. I knew who it was before my eyes even made it to the folded arms across the middle of the chest. I felt my mouth go dry as I let go of Freddie’s arms. When my eyes focused on the angry face, I swallowed hard. “Hi, Pa.”
 
“Mark Warren McCain!” Pa bent down and grabbed me hard by the arm. I let out a little cry as he pulled me to my feet. “What the devil are you doing?”
 
“Well…” I swallowed again. “You said never to walk away from a fight, sir…”
 
“Just who started this fight?” Pa asked. He lifted an eyebrow when I didn’t immediately answer. I thought back and remembered Freddie pushing me, but I also remembered that I had threatened it first. Pa wouldn’t much appreciate knowing that fact. “I’m waiting!” Pa’s voice was booming and very firm.
 
“Well…” I swallowed as I looked toward the boys. They slowly backed up. It seems that when my Pa was in one of his moods, people didn’t tend to want to hang around to see the results. “Well,” I tried again. “You see…”
 
“You know you started it, Mark McCain!” Freddie suddenly shouted.
 
“Mark!” I moved my eyes away from Pa’s. That’s when I realized that this time, I was in DOUBLE TROUBLE, because right beside Pa stood Miss Milly Scott. The expression on her face told me that she was about to give me what for too. I closed my eyes and groaned again. “Mark McCain! You apologize to Freddie right now!”
 
“Oh but, Miss Milly…” I started.
 
Pa grabbed my ear and gave it a tug. “Mark McCain, don’t you talk back to Milly! You do as she tells you, boy!”
 
I groaned again. After swallowing past the lump in my throat, I mumbled out an apology. “Mark McCain!” Milly’s eyes flashed as she crossed her arms and gave me one of those looks that told me she would deal with me later.
 
I rolled my eyes…I didn’t mean to, but I was just wondering why it was that parents didn’t get ALL the details before they started pointing fingers. I mean after all, if Pa was being accused of murder after shooting some man, wouldn’t he expect his accusers to get all the details? Then I cringed again, because the truth was…if Pa knew I had broken Freddie’s pencil on purpose, I probably would have gotten more than a tug on the ear. “I’m sorry, Freddie,” I answered loud enough to satisfy Milly.
 
Freddie dusted himself off, picked up his books, and hurried off. “But Pa,” I said quickly before he interrupted me again. “Why didn’t you let me tell the whole story? I could have a good reason for what I did!”
 
Pa lifted that eyebrow…you know, the one he always raised when he was about to question someone? “Let’s suppose I asked for EVERY detail…Would you be off the hook?”
 
I put my hands on my hips. “Well…seeing as how you’re the Pa and I’m the kid, I reckon not.” Pa hiked up that eyebrow even higher, waiting for an explanation. “Well…it seems that’s how it always seems to work out anyhow.”
 
Pa turned and looked at Milly who let him know that she wasn’t amused in the least. “It’s just not fair, Pa! Mr. Griswald gave a whole lot of homework, knowing that this was Thanksgiving Holiday! Then when someone groaned in class, he gave the WHOLE class another page of math!”
 
“Who would have the nerve to groan in Mr. Griswald’s classroom?” Pa asked then.
 
“Uh…that’s not important,” I quickly answered. The look on Pa’s face told me he KNEW the answer to that! “All the boys are mad now! And they even accused ME of being the reason we had to write an essay! It just ain’t fair!”
 
“Now Mark…” Pa crossed his arms and raised both of his eyebrows. “You are old enough, and smart enough, to know that life isn’t…”
 
“Fair!” I finished for him. Suddenly, I got myself an idea, you might say. “Say Pa, I remember you saying just yesterday that those steers in the far pasture are about ready for Market. Do you suppose that this week we could…”
 
“No, Mark.”
 
“Oh, and weren’t you saying something about building your own icehouse? Why I could help you then you could just tell Mr. Gris…”
 
“No, Mark!”
 
“Oh.”
 
“Mark…” Pa motioned in the dirt at my books. I immediately started picking them up. “Uh…Milly’s coming to our house for supper tonight. I need to get home and uh…take care of some things so I was wondering if…”
 
I laughed as I looked at Milly. “He means he needs to do some cleaning so you don’t think we are absolute…”
 
“Mark McCain, you are treading on really thin ice, boy!” Pa suddenly declared. I clamped my mouth shut at that point. He cleared his throat. “I would like you to hitch up Milly’s horse and buggy and escort her out to the ranch.” Pa looked up at the sky. “It looks like snow, son, so you best hurry.” Pa turned back to Milly. “Milly, I’ll get all the supplies you’ll need and take them with me.”
 
Milly nodded as Pa took her arm and they turned to leave the school yard. I started toward Blue Boy. “Oh boy…that will give Milly a whole hour to lecture me on the way a young man should behave and turning the other cheek…all that mother stuff…” I shook my head. “Then tonight, Pa will probably tell me what my punishment is for starting that fight!” I untied my horse and mounted him. Then when I turned, I saw Pa and Mr. Griswald talking. “Boy oh boy!” I mumbled as I hurried into town to jaw with Micah for a few minutes before having to go hitch up the buggy.
 
***
 
“Micah?” I looked up from the pile of wanted posters I was sorting for him. “Why are parents so…so…so…”
 
Micah paused in writing his report and looked up at me. “So what, Mark?”
 
“Well…so bossy???”
 
Micah chuckled as he went back to his report. “What did you do this time?”
 
“Well…” I stood up and walked over to his desk. “What makes you think it’s something I did?” I put my hands on my hips and cocked my head to one side. “You’re like my grandpa…you should be on my side!”
 
“Well, tell me what the problem is and then maybe I can chose a side.” Micah chuckled as he sat back in his chair and looked at me.
 
“Well…” I sat down next to him. “Freddie and I got into a fight. Pa came down pretty hard on me.” Micah grinned. He knew Freddie and I were always fighting over something or other. “Well, I mentioned to him that he told me never to walk away from a fight and he…”
 
Micah busted into laughter then. I slowly stood up and put my hands on my hips. “What’s so funny?”
 
“You…” Micah pointed at me. “Got into ANOTHER fight with Freddie and you expect your Pa to buy that ‘never walk away from a fight’ line?” Micah shook his head. “Had it been somebody else, your Pa would have bought it, but NOT with Freddie Toomey!”
 
I shook my head. “And it didn’t help that Milly was with him either.”
 
“Oh ho!” Micah laughed even harder. “I’m beginning to see the picture.” Micah stood up and slapped a hand on my shoulder. “Mark…just WHO did start this fight?”
 
“Well…” I cringed as I thought on it for a minute. “It just depends on how you look at it…” I turned to look out the window. Pa was hurrying from town. “Oh no! I better get to the livery. If I’m late getting Milly to the ranch, it’ll be a trip to the barn for sure!” With that, I hurried from Micah’s office and ran to the livery stable.
 
Soon, I was pulling up just outside the General Store. Milly closed and locked the door, then she accepted my offer of help into the wagon. “You should learn to ride a horse,” I mentioned as I started the buggy in motion. “You know, horseback ridin’s not half-bad. I’m sure Pa would get you a side-saddle for Christmas and…” But then I stopped as I looked sideways at her. “Of course…you seem more like the type who would prefer to ride like a man…”
 
As it turned out, Milly didn’t give me too much of a lecture on the way home. She did tell me that I needed to learn to get along with Freddie. She reminded me that nothing was solved fighting, and I declined to mention all the times Freddie and I had fought without being caught that…okay…somehow our Pa’s always found out when Freddie and I fought, but still…I’m sure if I really thought about it, I could find one for instance when our fighting solved something!
 
“Now Mark, the next time Freddie does something that makes you mad, you just walk away. Then I’m sure the next time you see each other you would have forgotten all about the reason you were fighting.” I pulled up just outside the house. “Shouldn’t groan out in class either.”
 
“Yes ma’am.” The door opened and Pa appeared with a really big smile as he hurried forward to help Milly down from the buggy. Milly accepted his hand and I grinned when I saw that her hand lingered in his as they started into the house.
 
Pa suddenly stopped and turned around, but his hand still held tight to Milly’s. “Something wrong?” Pa asked the question, but from the tone of his voice, I was thinking he really didn’t expect me to say there was something wrong. It was more like he was telling me to stop grinning and get the buggy to the barn.
 
“No sir,” I answered as I clucked to the horse and hurried to the barn.
 
By the time I got inside from feeding Blue Boy and the buggy horse, Milly had supper started. I grinned as I sniffed the air, pleasantly pleased that Milly was fixing her chicken and dumplings. I love Milly’s dumplings. “Is there any apple…” I started.
 
Milly turned and held up the apple pie. I smiled as I took a few steps forward and took a great big sniff. “Your father’s out checking the cattle,” Milly announced. “Perhaps you should go on and bring in some more firewood. There’s not much left in the wood box.
 
I remembered then that Pa has specifically reminded me yesterday that the wood was getting a bit low on the woodpile outside the door and I was to bring more in from the woodshed. My eyes grew wide. I knew that if Pa saw how low the wood pile was, he’d skin me alive! Pa was just telling me yesterday he didn’t understand kids my age…we were so responsible one minute, then the next we acted like our head took lose and we lost all our senses.
 
I quickly filled up the wood box, but then Pa came in and reminded me that the trash was getting a little full and needed burning. I looked toward the woodshed, then back at Pa. Then I nodded my head and went to burn the trash.
 
You know, the age of twelve could be really hard for a boy. It seemed I always had some sort of chore that needed done, then I had homework. It sure was hard scheduling those sort of things around my friends and fishing! Oh, fishing is what I had chosen to do instead of putting more wood on the wood pile the day before. And I reckon that…
 
As I was coming back from burning the trash, a cold wind blew right through me. I looked up at the sky to see what the trouble was, and my eyes grew wide at the sight of it. Big, dark clouds were quickly approaching. Pa had taught me all about nature, and from the look of those clouds, and the fact that animals were running for shelter I knew what was happening! I heard Blue Boy whinny from inside the barn as well. “Pa! Pa!” I called as I hurried toward the house. Pa hadn’t heard me call, and when I walked inside, I saw him and Milly in an embrace in the kitchen. At least, I think it was an embrace. He was standing behind her with his arms around her, and his lips were pretty close to her ear.
 
Pa immediately bolted straight up and turned around. Milly’s face got really red and she quickly bent over to look in the oven. “Pa, come outside!” I ordered as I hurried over and grabbed his arm.
 
“What’s the trouble, Mark?”
 
But Pa’s eyes widened when he looked in the window. Already, bits of snow were blowing around in the harsh wind that had just come in. “Oh no…” Pa breathed suddenly.
 
“Pa, is it what I think it is?” I asked as Pa stood in the doorway, his hair blowing every which way as he looked outside.
 
“Lucas, what is it?” Milly hollered over the noisy wind. She hurried up to us and shielded her face as she stood beside Pa in the doorway.
 
“It’s a blizzard,” Pa answered. He looked over a Milly, then back at me. “A bad one from the looks of it.”
 
Already, it was almost pitch black outside. I remembered that I had forgotten to get wood to go near the house. I turned and looked at the filled wood box, but knew that in a storm like that the wood would only last until tomorrow. The horses would need fed, and the cattle out on the range…
 
Milly was thinking the same thought, because she immediately asked about the cattle. Pa turned and looked at me. I’d been through this before and knew that we would for sure lose some of our cattle. Some would find shelter under the trees, but if the blizzard lasted too long they’d freeze to death. “Well, if the blizzard isn’t too bad, I can at least drop some feed out for them but…” Pa shook his head. “From the looks of it, Milly…”
 
I turned and saw the worry working into Milly’s face as she chewed on her lip. “How long will it last, Lucas?”
 
Pa hesitated in answering. He put an arm around her shoulders and closed the door behind us. “Well “Milly, I don’t know. It could last for hours or…”
 
“Days?” Milly lifted her eyebrows as dread crawled over her face. “Lucas…”
 
“Come on,” Pa smiled. “I believe that supper’s almost ready, huh?”
 
Thankfully, I had secured the barn before coming in here, but I’m sure Pa would have to eventually break the truth to Milly. I was almost positive that he would try to go take care of the animals in the barn. The chickens would fare okay in the coop, but Pa would feel better if they were in the barn as well. We both knew our animal’s survival depended on how cold things got on how well our animals fared.
 
Milly sat the last of the food on the table. Pa grabbed the Bible and turned to a passage he always liked to read when he was feeling danger. Afterwards, he took Milly’s hand in one hand and mine in the other and bowed his head. Humbly, he asked God to keep us and the animals stay safe, then he asked that God give him guidance and wisdom through the storm. After he said Amen, we started eating.
 
There was a strange silence around the table, but the house shook with the harsh wind. I could feel the wind coming through the cracks in the wall. Milly looked from me to Pa several times before finally returning to her eating. I knew Pa was a bit disappointed. This was supposed to be a pleasant night – one that would end with me going to bed a bit early so he and Milly could “enjoy adult conversation,” as Pa put it.
 
After Milly served the pie, Pa cleared his throat and spoke. “This is sure good pie, Milly.” Pa gave me a light kick under the table. “Ain’t it, Mark?”
 
“Yes. It sure is good pie!” I declared.
 
“And uh…I’m sure Mark will be glad to help you with the dishes.” Again, Pa kicked me lightly under the table. “Won’t you, son?”
 
“Uh…ye…” I stopped. “But I have to help you out in the…” Suddenly, I felt a sharp kick. “Ouch!”
 
Milly slowly lifted her head and looked at Pa. Then she shifted her eyes toward the window. Her eyes grew concerned as she looked back at Pa. “Lucas, you aren’t thinking of…”
 
Pa shot me a look. I decided I didn’t want the last of my pie. Immediately, I stood up and started gathering up the dishes. Pa leaned in toward Milly and took her hands in his. They were so close that their noses could almost touch! I strained my ears so I could hear what was being said, but Pa’s eyes shifted toward me and spoke a very clear warning. Quickly, I hurried into the kitchen. I heard Pa speak softly to Milly.
 
“Lucas McCain, don’t you even think of…” Milly started. Pa again spoke softly. I’m guessing he was trying to calm her by talking that way. Milly eyebrows wrinkled then. “But Lucas…the storm is…”
 
They both turned their heads to look at me. I hurried back toward the sink and poured water in a pan to boil. Pa stood up and grabbed a rope. “I’ll leave the rifle in here with you, son. You know what to do.” Pa sat the rope down and started buttoning up his coat.
 
Milly hurried over to Pa then. “Now Lucas McCain, I don’t want you going out there!”
 
“This is a ranch, Milly,” Pa declared. “I have to go make sure the horses have plenty of feed and will be warm enough. I need to put blankets on them.”
 
Milly turned and looked toward me. “What does Mark need the rifle for?”
 
Pa paused in buttoning his coat. Slowly, he walked up to Milly and put his hands on her shoulders so he could look her squarely in the face. “Honey…I don’t want you to worry. Now, I’ve walked to that barn enough to know my way. I’ll tie that rope from the house to the barn so we can use it as a guide the rest of the time. Mark knows that if I’m not back after a certain amount of time, he’s to fire that rifle until I come back.”
 
I watched Milly shiver. Pa pressed his lips to her forehead before he turned back around and continued buttoning his coat. “How long?” Milly asked.
 
Pa picked up the rope. “I’ll come back in a half hour. If I need more time, I’ll have to go back out there.” Pa put his hand on the door. “Don’t worry, Milly. Back in Oklahoma we got some bad storms.” I turned to look at Pa, warning him not to say too much. Pa had told me once about getting lost on the way to the barn and how my Ma fretted and worried for hours over it. I worried too. I didn’t like him going to the barn by himself but he didn’t let me go with him when the storm was too bad. Pa said one life in danger was enough.
 
“Lucas, take the lantern!” Milly suddenly said as she turned to grab the lantern hanging on a hook.
 
Pa reached up and put a hand over hers. He shook his head. “The storm’s too bad, Milly. A lantern….” Pa sighed again. “…won’t do any good.”
 
Milly slowly turned and looked at me. Worry was on every inch of her face. “Are you sure you have to?”
 
Pa nodded. He kissed her on her forehead again and rubbed his fingertips along her cheek. Then he put on his gloves. “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll be back very soon.”
 
Milly shivered as she closed the door behind Pa. She turned and looked at me. In my eyes, she saw that I was scared and I immediately turned back to the sink to hide my fear. “Well…” She tried to smile. “Let’s get these dishes done, huh?”
 
Milly washed and I dried. I hated to do it, but I had to point out several dishes that were still dirty. Milly finally smiled as she once again looked out into the darkness. “I guess I just…have trouble concentrating.” Milly stared out the window. “How long’s it been?”
 
I looked at the clock and told her it had only been about fifteen minutes. Milly wiped her hands on the dishtowel and slowly walked over to the door. “Mark…if he never made it to the barn…” Milly picked up Pa’s rifle and ran her hand along the stock. “If you start firing after thirty minutes and he never made it to the barn…”
 
I understood Milly’s worry. Pa told me that women naturally worry. If truth be known, though, Pa was a worrywart as well. He told me it was on account of my Ma, but from what I’ve heard, Pa was a worrier way before my Ma died. I grabbed my coat off the hook and buttoned it up. “What do you think you’re doing?”
 
I smiled at Milly. “Don’t worry. Pa would skin me if I disobeyed him. I’m just going to give the rope a pull. If he made it to the barn, it’ll be tied. If he didn’t…” I opened the door and disappeared onto the porch. I gave the rope a firm pull and smiled in relief when it didn’t give way. I turned and hurried back inside and smiled at Milly. “He made it to the barn.”
 
It wasn’t five minutes later that the door opened. Pa hurried inside. “What’s wrong, son?” Pa asked.
 
The reason for his concern was that if anything was wrong, I was to give a hard tug on the rope. I had done that to calm Milly, and hadn’t even thought on the fact that Pa would come rushing inside. “I’m sorry, Pa. Milly was worried.”
 
“You…” Pa’s face screwed up in a really ugly, annoyed expression. “You called me in here because…because Milly was worried???”
 
“No sir,” I answered quickly. “I…I just went out to make sure the rope was tied so Milly wouldn’t worry! I didn’t even think about…” I hung my head. “I’m sorry.”
 
Pa looked from Milly to me, and then back at Milly. He sighed. “It’s alright, son. I have to go back out there though. The horses need covered. It’s getting pretty cold out there. And I’m going to try and take care of the chickens.” Pa put a hand on Milly’s shoulder. “Have hot coffee ready in an hour.”
 
“An hour?” Milly’s voice sounded panicked. “Lucas, you can’t!”
 
“I’ll hurry, honey.” Pa didn’t say another word. He disappeared back into the darkness.
 
 Milly turned and looked at the clock on the table. It read about 7:13. Milly went and stared out into the darkness.
 
I must admit that I was a bit scared myself. This blizzard was awfully bad. I hadn’t seen a blizzard quite this bad before. The minutes slowly ticked by. I tried to keep Milly’s mind occupied, but it was hard when I was so worried myself.
 
I looked at the clock again and it read 7:50. Milly paced the floor, declaring that she would give Pa just another ten minutes. I knew that if Pa wasn’t back by 8:00 on the dot, she’d order me to tug on the rope, or shoot the rifle…or both.
 
The minutes continued to tick by. Milly put a hand to her mouth as she continued to stare out the window. The next time we looked at the clock, it ready 7:58. “Two more minutes.” Milly kept her eyes on the clock. The wind blew so hard that the door creaked, and she kept hoping it was Pa. Finally, the clock showed 8:00. “That’s it!” Milly hurried to the door and yanked it open.   “Go yank on the rope!” She yelled through the wind.
 
I hurried outside, not bothering to put my coat on. Then I gave the rope a hard yank. I yanked three times. Milly closed the door when I came back in. I hurried to the fireplace and held my hands over the fire. I had been out there for less than a minute, and already my hands were freezing! The minutes ticked by, but Pa never came. Milly watched the clock and the door at the same time. “Come on, Lucas…come on…” But Pa never came. Finally, Milly hurried to the door and grabbed the rifle. “Mark, shoot it!”
 
I put my coat and gloves on then went outside. Holding the rifle up in the air, I fired several shots. The snow was so thick and the wind was blowing so hard that I could only see a few feet in front of my face. But finally, after firing about twenty shots from the rifle, Pa’s shadow appeared. I threw the rifle down and turned toward the door. “MILLY!” I screamed. Milly hurried out onto the porch. I reached out and grabbed Pa’s arm. Milly grabbed his other and lifted him up onto the porch.
 
“Get him inside by the fire!” Milly screamed over the wind. We dragged him inside. Pa was shaking and stiff. His teeth chattered. “You okay, Pa?” I asked as we dragged him over by the fire. Milly quickly pulled out a chair and we eased him down onto it.
 
“Mark, go get some cold water!” Milly ordered as she bent down in front of Pa and started taking off his boots. “Hurry, Mark!” Milly had tears on her cheeks. “Oh Lucas…you shouldn’t have gone out there!”
 
Pa shook as he bit into one of his gloved hands and worked on removing the glove. “I…I…I…had to…” Pa stuttered. “I…had to…ch…ch…check th…th…the animals!”
 
I hurried over with the pan of water. “Mark, take off his coat and his gloves.” Milly went to work on his second boot. Then she started rubbing his bare foot. “We’ve got to warm you up. Oh, but you have such a chill!”
 
I saw the extreme concern in Milly’s eyes. Her face held a deep concern. I wondered how close Pa was to frost bite, and didn’t like the look of his feet at all. Milly continued to rub. I watched Pa cringe as she stuck his foot down into the water. “Bring me the medicine box,” Milly ordered then. I hurried to the cabinet and grabbed the box. Milly rummaged through it and told me to bring a cup of hot water. I watched as she poured something into it and stirred. “Here…” She handed me the cup. “Make him drink this.”
 
I held the cup up to his lips while Milly kept sticking Pa’s feet into the cold water. After I got half of it down, Pa held up a shaky hand and shook his head. “Go get some blankets and towels, Mark!” Milly’s voice shook as he hurried into the bedroom to retrieve the requested articles. When I returned, she was helping Pa take off his wet jeans.
 
“Miss Milly!” I gasped as my eyes opened wide.
 
“Nevermind, Mark!” Milly pulled his jeans off. “Let’s get him wrapped in this blanket. Milly took his feet out of the water and lovingly dried them off. I sighed in relief when I saw the color returning to them. Milly began sobbing as she held the feet on her lap. It was then that I realized the toll the entire ordeal had taken on her.
 
I walked up beside her and smoothed her hair like Pa would do. Pa lifted his head, his teeth still chattering, and stuttered for a cup of coffee. Milly didn’t say a word the whole time Pa sipped his coffee. Finally, Pa reached his hand out to Milly. Milly lifted her head and looked up at Pa as she continued to sob. “Lucas McCain…you…you…”
 
Pa lifted his head toward me. “Mark…you best go on into the bedroom and get ready for bed,” Pa said sternly. I could tell from the expression on his face that I should do that. I had a feeling a fight was brewing between Milly and Pa and he didn’t want me to be a witness. I nodded my head and went to the bedroom.
 
Now remember, I’m a twelve year old boy and I’m rather curious. So, I left the door open just a wee crack. Since Milly was so upset and Pa was still recovering from his near-death experience, they didn’t notice. “Milly…” I heard Pa sigh.
 
“Now, Lucas McCain, don’t you sit there and tell me those animals out in the barn were worth risking your life for!” Milly shouted. Even with the door closed and myself tucked in my bed, I would have heard every word SHE had to say! “You could have been killed!”
 
“Now Darling…”
 
Milly’s voice got even louder. “And don’t you ‘darling’ me Lucas McCain! I’m so mad at you that I…” She suddenly stopped. Her voice quieted a bit. “What were you thinking going into that storm?”
 
“I…didn’t realize it was THAT bad. It must have gotten worse when…” Pa stopped. I think he was trying to stand up. “Now Milly, I’m sorry I worried you.” He groaned then.
 
“No, don’t get up!” Milly’s voice held concern.  Then in a very stern voice – one that I don’t reckon Pa should ignore – she said, “Lucas, you aren’t going back out there! Not as long as that storm’s raging like that! We’ll just have to get by with what we have!”
 
“Now Milly…”
 
“Lucas! I’ll tie you to that chair if I have to, but you are NOT going back out there!”
 
I put a hand to my mouth to stifle my laughter. There weren’t too many people who could tell Lucas McCain what to do, but I would rather go up against a bunch of wolves then disobey Milly when she used that tone of voice. Pa reckoned the same thing because then I heard him say, “Yes ma’am.”
 
There was silence. I opened the door another crack to see what was going on. Milly was bent down beside Pa’s chair. Pa had his hands on her cheeks and was kissing her. My eyes widened at the shock of it and I fell forward, coming down with a loud crash. That broke the kiss and Pa and Milly’s head turned to stare at me. “Alright, that’s IT!” Pa stood up and winced as his feet still gave him pan.  “Mark Warren McCain, how many times have I told you not to eaves drop?”
 
“I…” I quickly stood up and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry, P…Pa!” Pa hurried toward me and dragged me into the bedroom. When I was standing in front of my bed, he allowed a hard smack to come down on my back side. “See that bed? You best be in that bed and asleep within five minutes…” Pa turned me to face him. “OR ELSE!”
 
“Y…y…yes sir!” But then I started feeling guilty about something. Pa turned to go back out into the main room when I stopped him. “Pa?” Pa turned. “Uh…I think I should tell you something…”
 
“What is it son?” Pa’s voice softened when he saw the concern on my own face.
 
I looked toward the door. “Pa, I’m sorry but…” I spoke low so Milly couldn’t hear me. “I…forgot to pile more wood outside the house yesterday.” Pa groaned and said something under his breath I didn’t quite catch. “Pa, I’m sorry! There’s not much wood left beside the house. I…I…”
 
“Goodnight, Mark.”
 
I heard the disappointment in Pa’s voice. As I lay in bed, I could hear Pa and Milly talking in low voices. Pa must have been close to the bedroom, because I heard him say, “You know…you’re stuck here with us until the storm passes. I’ll hang a blanket in the room and you can take the bed.”
 
“Oh no!” Milly argued as Pa opened the bedroom door. I immediately turned on my side and closed my eyes. I didn’t want Pa to think I was still awake. “Lucas, really…I can sleep on a cot.”
 
“Absolutely not, Milly.” I kept my eyes closed while Pa came in and got a cot from under the bed. Then the door closed. I was still awake about an hour later when the door opened and closed. I wasn’t sure who had won the argument, and I didn’t dare look. I heard the rustling of clothing, then there was silence.
 
***
 
When I woke up the next morning, the wind was still howling. The bedroom had turned mighty cold as well. I shivered as I pulled the blankets up around me. Voices filtered in from the cracked door, as did the smell of breakfast cooking. I groaned as I got up and dressed, then I hurried into the front room to the fire. “It sure is cold!” I declared as I warmed my hands over the fire. “Pa, you going to go out to the barn this morning?” I couldn’t keep the grin from my face as I turned back to look into the fire.
 
“Now, don’t get smart with me, boy!” Pa glared at me. I didn’t have to look to know that – I could feel his glare! “Besides, I gave them enough feed last night to tide them over for a day or two.”
 
Milly turned from the stove and announced that breakfast was almost ready. After Pa blessed the food and we started eating, I looked from Pa to Milly. “Uh…where’d you two sleep last night?”
 
Pa gave me a firm kick under the table. I could tell right off that by the time this blizzard was over, I’d have no shins left. “Milly slept in the bed and I slept out here on the cot,” Pa answered frankly.
 
“Oh.” I took another bite. “Well…I guess we could pop some popcorn and uh…tell scary stories over…”
 
Pa lifted an eyebrow and looked at Milly. “I have some chores to do in here, son. And I believe Milly has plans for you.”
 
“Oh?’ I looked toward Milly. “What am I doing today?”
 
Milly smiled. “I think you have plenty of homework to keep you busy, Mark.”
 
“Home…” I sat down my fork and leaned forward. “HOMEWORK???” Pa cleared his throat. “Miss Milly, there’s a blizzard outside!”
 
Milly shrugged a shoulder and looked at Pa. “What does a blizzard have to do with homework?”
 
“Well…it’s almost Thanksgiving!” I declared then. “I mean…”
 
“Mark…” Pa sighed. “Don’t be rude. You’re doing homework.”
 
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Of all the people to get snowed in with…I had to get snowed in with a school teacher!”
 
“Mark McCain…” Pa warned.
 
I stood and started gathering the dishes. “I know…I know…”
 
As soon as I got the dishes washed, Milly pointed to the table and ordered me to sit down. She then questioned me on the homework I had. I told her I had arithmetic and an essay. I also had lots of history reading to do on account that I didn’t do it last week, but I left that last part out. Milly told me to get started on my arithmetic. I groaned, stating that was my worst subject. She smiled as she started wiping down the counters. “I know.”
 
As the wind howled outside, I opened my math book and took out the ledger to see what my assignment was. Pa sat down at the desk and started taking out papers. He said this would be a good day to go through all his papers and do some figuring and sorting. I put a hand to my forehead as I tried to read the scribbles on my tablet, but it was no use. I had scratched the assignment down in such a hurry.
 
“What’s wrong, son?” Pa asked when he saw the expression on my face.
 
“Well…” I swallowed hard. “I just can’t…quite make out what my assignment is.”
 
Milly came to stand behind me. She looked down at the tablet, then bent way over as she tried to read it. “Mark McCain!”
 
“What now?” Pa asked as he stood and hurried over to the table. He picked up the tablet and squinted as he tried to read. “Well…the first number is 26…I think…” I groaned. “But I can’t make out the last number!”
 
Milly and Pa studied it as I sat there. “Is it a 55?”
 
“I don’t think so, Milly,” Pa answered. “That would be an awful lot of pages.
 
“Maybe it’s a 35,” I said then.  “Oh…but I think he said 33…Yeah! He said 33!”
 
The tablet plopped down in front of me. “No,” Milly declared. “I think you should go to at least page 36…just to make sure.”
 
“Thirty…” I slowly lifted my head to look at her. “But that’s…”
 
“Ten pages.”  Milly nodded. She slowly sat down beside me. From the way her eyes leveled, I could tell I was in for a lecture. “Mark…let’s suppose that you were copying a recipe and…”
 
“Milly…” Pa sat down on the other side of me. “He’s a boy.”
 
“Oh right.” Milly put a hand to her mouth and thought. “Okay…let’s suppose you just measured your acreage for new fencing. Now, let’s suppose that you come to the store and have to guess how much fencing wire you need. Do you need enough for forty acres…or fifty? That’s a big difference.” Milly tapped the tablet. “This, Mark…this is NOT good writing.” She stood up. “Let that be a lesson to you.”
 
I lifted my head and looked at Pa. “Why’d you have to court a teacher?”
 
Pa lifted his eyebrows then stood and went back to his work.
 
I was happy when Milly announced that it was lunch time, but as soon as lunch was done she made me go back to doing homework. That afternoon, she announced I could stop with my math until the next day. I was happy to announce that I only had one page of math left, then I could go to work on the dreadful essay that I was sure she would love to help me on! Milly assured me she would grade…er…check my math that evening. I groaned at that knowing she would probably find several problems that were answered incorrectly.
 
I could smell fresh bread baking. It smelled a lot better than that bread Pa would make. And I also enjoyed the smell of chocolate cake tonight. While supper was cooking, Pa and Milly sat at the table and the three of us talked. Pa told her all about Thanksgiving back in Enid when he was a kid. I laughed at some of the things he told us, and was surprised to find out that Abraham Lincoln was the one to declare Thanksgiving as a national holiday and one to be observed everywhere at the same time.
 
“Boy…” I shook my head as I listened to Pa talk. “Abraham Lincoln died before I was born, but I sure would like to have met him!” I raised my eyebrows at Pa. “Did you ever meet him?”
 
Pa smiled as he sat back in his chair and crossed his arms. “As a matter of fact, Mark, I DID meet him once.”
 
My eyes grew wide, and I heard Milly gasp as she sat beside me. “You did?!” I was suddenly very excited! “When? How? Did you talk to him? Did he know you? Was it when he was President? What was it like? Did you get to shake his hand?” My questions just kept coming. I was talking so fast that Pa could hardly understand me.
 
“Whoa there, partner!” Pa held up his hands and chuckled. “Not so fast!”
 
I sat back in my chair and turned my head quickly to Milly. “Oh but, you have to tell me!”
 
“I will, I will…You just hold on to your horses!” Pa chuckled again as he cleared his throat. “I was in the war. It was about a year after Gettysburg…well, maybe not that long. It seems like it was a year though…Anyhow, our infantry was invited to attend his Gettysburg address. I still remember the sights, the sounds, and the feelings. My heart was pumping so fast and I was so excited…I cannot begin to tell you the excitement I felt when I saw that hat of his in the crowd. Then he stood and walked over to me. He spoke to me, but I don’t remember now quite what he said. Then he shook my hand.”
 
“Golly!” I felt my heart swell with pride to realize that my father had shook hands with the President of the United States. “Golly,” I said again.
 
Pa had moved on from there. His eyes seemed to take on a different emotion as he spoke the next words. “I remember when he died. I had just left Enid and was on my way down to Texas when I heard someone behind me announce that Abraham Lincoln was dead. I….” Pa let out a loud, long sigh. “Oh, I could hardly believe it…The greatest President the United States had ever known was gunned down…shot in the back…”
 
After all these years, the event still had a bad effect on Pa. I needed to bring him back to happiness. I reckon that’s why I asked the next question.
 
“So Pa…were you around when the pilgrims and Indians met?” I asked suddenly.
 
I got the reaction I expected. Pa made sure to tell me that when he was in school, his teacher told them about the long ago voyage of the pilgrims.
 
Pa looked up at Milly at one point. “I’m sorry you’re stuck here. I know that…it makes things a bit…awkward.”
 
I watched Milly’s face get red. “I can only imagine the gossip that will be in town,” she stated.
 
“Let them talk,” Pa said then. “It’ll give them something more interesting to talk about.” I was sitting between them and started squirming a bit when Pa dragged his hand across the table and took Milly’s. “Uh…I suddenly remembered I have something to do in the bedroom.” Then I got up and practically flew to the bedroom. A couple minutes later, I opened the door and saw Pa sitting right beside Milly. His arm was around her shoulders and he was leaning right close to her ear. Milly giggled.
 
I closed the door, then made a lot of noise before opening the door. There was plenty of space between them when I walked out. That, I was happy about! Milly got up and went to finish supper.
 
After supper, Pa decided that since there wasn’t much to do, he’d play a game of checkers before I went to bed. I looked toward the clock and wondered how I could make a checker game last three hours. Pa shook his head. “Don’t even think about it, son.” The game was over in thirty minutes. “Well…since it’s so dark and there’s really not that much to do, you should turn in.”
 
I looked from Pa to Milly, then asked, “You going to bed too, Pa?”
 
Pa smiled. “I think Milly and I will have some adult conversation. Good night, son.”
 
“Yeah,” I grumbled.
 
As I lay in bed, though, Milly’s voice suddenly sounded through the closed door. “No you won’t, Lucas McCain!” Pa said something in his quiet, calming voice that I couldn’t hear, then Milly’s voice sounded loud and clear. “How can you even think of that after what happened last time?”
 
“I’m just going to the barn!” Pa declared. I knew that the shed was just off of the barn, and if he figured it just right he could probably get to the shed where the wood was, but I wondered how he would get the wood from the shed to the house. “The animals need food and I need to check on the horses!”
 
I jumped out of bed and hurried to the door. “Pa?”
 
Pa and Milly turned around. Milly had her arms folded and looked pretty upset. “What?” Pa asked a bit rudely.
 
“Since it was my fault, I think I should…”


Pa waved his hands in front of his face. That’s when I realized he hadn’t told Milly about needing wood. I clamped a hand over my mouth. Milly unfolded her hands and straightened up. “What was his fault?”
 
Pa rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. “You might as well tell her now, Mark.”
 
“Well…I sort of forgot to get wood from the woodshed the other night. We don’t have any left outside the house.”
 
“I see.” Milly turned and glared at Pa. “You were just going to the barn, huh?”
 
I cringed at the look in her eyes. Pa looked as if he was cringing too. “Goodnight, Mark!” Milly said as she looked at me.
 
“But the wood…” I started.
 
“Goodnight.” The way Milly took a step toward me and lifted those eyebrows told me that I would survive the storm IF I went to bed.
 
Things were quiet after that. I heard some noises like the door opening and closing as I drifted off to sleep.
 
***
 
Wednesday morning the wind was STILL blowing fierce. Pa looked quite worried about the cattle. Milly was again preparing breakfast. I looked toward the wood box and noticed that it was overflowing. “Well…” I said as I sat down at the table. “Looks like Pa made it to the barn.”
 
Pa smiled into his coffee cup. “Well...not quite, son…But WE got the wood.”
 
“How?”
 
Milly turned form the stove. “Never mind, Mark. Set the table.”
 
It would be years later before I actually learned how that wood got into the house.
 
After breakfast, Milly sat me down at the table again to do homework. I had a lot of math problems to do over again, and Milly did help me with the essay that afternoon. It didn’t take much for Pa and Milly to figure out that I had been the reason the essay assignment had been made.
 
That afternoon, we discussed plans for Thanksgiving. Milly had planned on coming to the ranch with Micah and fixing Thanksgiving dinner the next day, but now she figured the three of us would be snowed in. Pa mentioned that it looked as if the storm was slacking. “Is that a good sign?” Milly asked anxiously.
 
Pa smiled as he nudged her chin. “It could be just a lull, Milly.” I could see the worry in Pa’s eyes. I knew he was concerned about the cattle and how they were holding out. In other storms, we’d lost a few head, but it hadn’t been anything like this. Pa hoped that the storm would let up a bit more so he could go out and check, but he knew even that would be almost an impossibility. With the winds and all, snowdrifts had built up. He hoped the cows would somehow be able to survive.
 
“It just so happens,” Pa finally said as he gave me a wink. “That Mark caught a wild turkey last week and put it in with the chickens.” I groaned, figuring the chickens had all perished by this point. “The turkey,” Pa said then, “is in the barn in a cage. I gave him plenty of feed to fatten him up. Early in the morning, I’ll go get him and you can cook him.”
 
Milly gasped as she bolted from her chair and hurried into the kitchen. She started rummaging through the cupboards and writing things down. “What are you doing, Milly?” Pa asked as we both stood and watched her continue on her search.
 
“I’m looking to see if you have everything I need to make stuffing!” Milly declared. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Pa shrugged his shoulders, then we turned and watched her again. She turned toward us with a big smile on her face. “I do! I have everything I need!”
 
Turkey and dressing…” I licked my lips. “I can hardly wait!”
 
Milly wasn’t done. “What about sweet potatoes?”
 
Pa smiled as he went to lift a rug back. “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” I chuckled as Pa lifted the floor up and lit another lantern. I started to follow them down, but Pa told me he and Milly would be right back up.
 
“Oh Lucas!” I heard Milly exclaim. “Sweet potatoes and green beans…is that a pumpkin? Why, we can have pumpkin pie too! Oh Lucas, we’re going to have a real Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings! Oh Lucas!”
 
Suddenly, it got really quiet down there. I lowered my head and listened, but no sounds could be heard. “Pa?”
 
“Mm?” I heard his muffled voice.
 
“Are you okay, Pa?”
 
“Yes!” Milly answered.
 
Silence again.
 
“Pa?” Pa and Milly appeared on the steps. Pa had a bunch of sweet potatoes in his arms. They made two more trips up and down the stairs. Then Pa closed the cellar door and put the rug back over it.
 
That evening, Milly made a bit pot of vegetable soup. She said it was stew without the meat. It was mighty tasty anyhow. After supper, Pa again suggested we turn in early since there wasn’t much to do. Milly was practically glowing with excitement. I questioned Pa about it, and he said that Milly was happy she would be able to fix a full Thanksgiving dinner.
 
I smiled, happy Pa and Milly seemed happier then said goodnight and went to bed.
 
***
Something woke me. I’m not sure what it was, because when I woke up there was only silence. I sat up in bed and opened the curtain a bit, but Milly seemed to still be asleep. Quietly, I made my way into the front room. Pa was standing at the window looking out. “Pa?”
 
“Mark, what are you doing up?” Pa whispered as he pressed a finger to his lips.
 
“I’m not sure. Something woke me up.” Just then, I realized that something was missing. “Pa…the wind…”
 
Pa held out his arm to me. I walked to stand beside him. “Silence, son…The silence woke you up.” I smiled as I looked up at him. “The storm’s over.”
 
I looked outside to see the moon shining. “It’s amazing,” I finally managed to say.
 
“What is, son?” Pa asked.
 
“Nature. How can it be calm and sunshiny one moment, then windy and stormy the next…then just as quickly, the clouds go away?”
 
“It’s God’s way, son. It’s God’s way.” Pa looked toward the bedroom. “How would you like to help me with the chores?”
 
“Yes sir!” I declared as I hurried back to the bedroom to dress.
 
As we were getting our coats on, Milly made her way from the bedroom. She had a blanket wrapped around her and yawned. “Lucas? Mark?”
 
Pa walked up to her and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “The storm’s over, Honey.” He turned and looked at me. “You’ll have two hungry men when we get back from the barn. What do you say about fixing us an early breakfast?”
 
Milly smiled. “I would love that very much!”
 
Pa and I walked out to the barn. Pa held on to me as I stumbled through the three feet of snow. When we got into the barn, I was happy to see that the horses had fared well. I hurried up to Blue Boy, who immediately started nudging my coat for sugar cubes. I turned and looked at Pa. “Go ahead!” Pa said as he nodded his head. “You’ll just sneak them to him anyhow!”
 
I laughed as I fed Blue Boy his treat. Then I went to work on filling the feed troughs and raking up the straw. We had several other chores to do. Pa left the barn and returned a few minutes later to report that the pigs actually survived the storm. Some of the chickens hadn’t been so lucky, but they were easily replaceable. Then I saw Pa look out toward the range. “What do you think, Pa?”
 
“Well son…I think that after breakfast, you and I should go check on our stock.”
 
“Both of us?”
 
Pa nodded. “It’ll take a little sweet talking to convince Milly to let us go. After breakfast, what do you say about coming on out here and doing a few more chores while I work on that.” I grinned. “And wipe that grin off your face!” Pa demanded.
 
Milly soon came out onto the porch and announced in a happy voice that breakfast was on the table. We sat down at the table. Pa opened the Bible and read a Psalm of thanks, then he took our hands and led a prayer to thank God for his protection. When he said Amen, we lifted our head and smiled at each other. Then we ate the hearty breakfast.
 
***
 
Pa soon joined me in the barn. “She finally let you go, huh?” Pa nodded but didn’t say anything. “What’d you do? Propose to her?”
 
Pa’s head shot around. He pointed a finger at me. “Now, don’t you get so smart!” he warned me. “I reckon I have my ways.” I lifted my eyebrows. Pa turned back to me again. “You’ll understand…”
 
“…when I’m older!” I rolled my eyes. “Grown ups!”
 
Pa laughed as he gave me a smack on the back side. “Let’s go, boy.”
 
To start out, we had to use our snow shoes and walk through the deep snow. Pa cringed when he found cattle that didn’t make it. When we had walked quite a ways, Pa decided that we had fared better than he thought we would. He decided that the drifts weren’t too bad. We wouldn’t be able to carry hay by wagon, so Pa and I worked all morning at carrying piles of hay out onto the range. The cattle made their way through the snow to the hay. Pa said some of the weaker one’s wouldn’t be able to make the treck, and he fretted about them, but until some of the snow melted, we wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. I knew he worried, but he said being a rancher is a lot like being a farmer. Sometimes your crops fail.
 
Milly worried as we tiredly ate our lunch. We could smell the turkey cooking in the oven. Milly was tired herself from cooking all morning and begged Pa that we should stay in this afternoon, but Pa just smiled and turned to look at me. I told him I’d meet him at the barn. About fifteen minutes later, he made his way to the barn and said, “Let’s go.”
 
For the next four hours, we again worked at dropping hay for the cattle. It was a tiring job. The sun was shining, but it was too cold for the snow to do much melting. Pa said we’d be out here again tomorrow bringing them hay.
 
As we made our way back down to the house, we saw a sleigh pull into the yard. We hurried forward and rejoiced when Micah stopped and jumped from the sleigh. “I was sent here to see if Milly Scott is being held captive,” Micah grumbled.
 
Pa folded his arm. “Thanks for the concern, Micah. But we know the truth.” Pa winked down at me. “You just came here because you didn’t want to be left out on Thanksgiving dinner.”
 
“Well, I must admit that I didn’t look too forward to eating an old piece of bread and butter for Thanksgiving Dinner.” Micah raised an eyebrow. “What were you thinking, keeping a pretty, unmarried lady at your ranch all these days?”
 
“I wasn’t given much choice in the matter, Micah.”
 
“Well, if you ask me, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it!’ I declared.
 
Micah raised an eyebrow. “Oh, he likes Milly alright, Micah. But uh…” Pa chuckled. “I think it’s her teaching experience that he has a little problem with. You see, she made him do homework for two days straight.”
 
“Oh.” Micah lifted his eyebrows at me. “Well, you should have stayed in town, Mark . We could have gone over all the Wanted Posters!”
 
Pa chuckled as my eyes grew big at that prospect. “I think Milly should have supper about ready.” As he opened the door, Milly turned from the stove. She smiled when she saw Micah. “Look what the cat dragged in!” Pa declared.
 
“And that’s not all.” Micah left the house and soon returned with a box. “I talked to Mrs. Hanavan at the boarding house in town. She gave me a few things you may need.”
 
Milly opened the box and laughed, then she disappeared into the bedroom. It took a long time for her to leave the bedroom. When she came out, she fluffed out her dress and smoothed her hair. Pa let out a loud whistle and I just stared. “Oh Milly…”
 
Pa took a step toward her and touched her face. “You look ravishing,” he mumbled loud enough for me to hear. Then he turned and looked at me and Micah. We both turned our backs so they could have a bit of privacy.
 
“Mark…uh…” Micah nudged me. “I think you and I are going to be left to fend for ourselves!”
 
“Oh no you aren’t!” Milly wiped her eyes as she hurried back to the kitchen. I turned to see Pa staring in her direction. “Well, don’t just stand there, Lucas! Help me!”
 
Micah and I sat down at the table as Pa carried the turkey over to the table. Pa cleared his throat as he stood up. “Uh…my family always had a tradition.” He looked at us as he smiled. “As you know…I have three brothers and two sisters, and Margaret had several siblings as well. Every Thanksgiving, we’d get together and announce any news worthy items for the year. Then we’d join hands and sing a song before the man of the house would say a prayer over the food.” Pa smiled. “Well…I want to continue that tradition…”
 
I couldn’t help seeing the tears that glistened Pa’s eyes as he remembered back to those Thanksgivings with Ma. I imagine it’s still very painful for him even today. “I…I’m blessed. When God took my wife…Mark’s mother…I didn’t think I’d ever have such happiness again, but…” He squeezed Milly’s hand. “For the last three days, I’ve had Milly here to share my home with and it’s been wonderful. She’s taken care of Mark and me as if we were her own family.” Pa turned to Micah. “And God’s given me a good friend.” Pa turned to me. “…and a wonderful, though mischievous, son.”
 
Pa looked toward Milly who swallowed before she spoke. “When I first came to North Fork and met this…” Milly smiled as she looked at Pa. “This big ol’ brute who’s rough around the edges, I never imagined that I’d someday be sharing his home and taking care of him and his son like I did these last three days. Nature forced us together and…” Milly smiled. “I think we are closer because of it. Thank you, Lucas.”
 
Micah cleared his throat then. “Well…I’m a tough ol’ man and don’t want to cry, but you two certainly are making that hard.” We all laughed. “I…just want to say that I am happy I have you three in my life.” Micah stopped. I was surprised to see a tear in his eye. “Okay, that’s it!”
 
I smiled as everyone looked at me. “I wonder what Ma would say were she here today? I don’t remember Thanksgivings at home too well, but I know Ma was a wonderful cook. I’m sure she always had a big, festive dinner ready for us every Thanksgiving.” Pa nodded his head. “And I’m sure she had something really nice to say about every single one of her family members.” I saw Pa’s eyes moisten. “Ma would be so proud of you, Pa. You’ve taken such good care of me and you’ve…you bought this ranch and built it up from nothing. You take such good care of man and animal and…from what you’ve told me, Ma loved animals.”
 
I saw a tear slide down Pa’s cheek. “I can only imagine the smile Ma would have on her cheek as she looked at me and Pa..and all her family and…” I paused and turned to pick up her journal I had read so many times. I thumbed through it until I found the right passage. After clearing my throat, I read:
 
“Thanksgiving this year was just as special as all the Thanksgivings before. This year I carry a special little bundle in my arms. I was so proud to show our boy off to all our family gathered around. Lucas loves this boy with a special kind of love that doesn’t come around too often. The bond those two share is indescribable.
 
Tonight, as I looked around at my family I knew that though this has been a hard year for Lucas and me…and now little Mark…our love carried us through every trial just like it has every other year. Oh, I’m so proud of the strength Luke has! And I’m so proud of the family I have. God has richly blessed us.
 
I don’t know how many more Thanksgivings I have, but I pray that Thanksgiving will always be a day of thankfulness for my family…a day my family can gather around the table and be thankful for each other. I pray that if I’m not there in five…ten years, that my husband and son will have a bond that sustains them and carries them through the storms they may face.
 
I’ll forever treasure these things in my heart.
 
I lifted my head to Pa. “Thank you, Pa. Thank you for loving me…for giving me a home. Thank you for…for sharing your life with me!”
 
Pa was at my side in another moment. We were hugging and crying while Milly and Micah looked on. “I love you, son.”
 
“I love you, Pa.” I smiled as I looked up into his face. “A boy couldn’t ask for a better…father.”


These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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